Mending the World

Ordinary men and women often have a very good sense of how to solve our problems



Few today may remember the American actor and comedian George Burns. He died in 1996, at the age of exactly 100, a venerable doyen of the Vaudeville era. Never on stage without his signature cigar, he delighted generations with his arched eyebrow, gravelly voice, and pessimistic Jewish humor.

My favorite memory of his onstage patter was a reflection on the state of current politics: “It’s too bad,” he complained, “that all the guys who know how to fix the world are either cutting hair or driving cabs.”

I don’t know if he was right — that ordinary people such as taxi drivers and barbers do have all the answers — but if they don’t, who has? Throughout the ages we have all seen instances of high-level incompetence and even downright stupidity among our leaders in church and state, in war and in peace, in good times and bad, but possibly never more than today.

As children we tended to view the social structure as a steep isosceles triangle: at the top, far above us, were the brilliant and gifted, the holy and the wise. We were all at the base, gazing up upon our betters with appropriate awe. As we grew older, we started to realize that the triangle was actually flatter than we thought, that our leaders weren’t all that much cleverer and more discerning than we were. We even suspected that even if they were better informed than ourselves, they were not necessarily more capable of making wise decisions. We eventually woke up to the fact that the President of the United States may have no more intelligence or innate talent than the Mayor of Broken Hill (I choose that example flippantly); fate has cast their lots very differently, but they’re both just human beings, doing the best they can to manage their jobs. The only real difference is that the former has more staff to do things well – or to make a mess of them!

So our leaders blunder from time to time, but the consequences of their blunders are usually much more serious than ours. The steeper you climb, the further you can fall.

George Burns wasn’t far from the truth: ordinary men and women often have a very good idea of how to mend the world, but their voices are usually drowned out by their leaders who fall over each other for the honor of being the people’s saviors.  As ever, the Bible offers good advice:

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help… Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God (Ps. 146).


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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